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Don't expect ultrabooks to transform the PC market, says analyst

The PC industry is counting on ultrabooks to stir up growth, but it's not likely to materialize any time soon, says a J.P. Morgan analyst.


The ultrabook is the latest fad being pushed by PC vendors. But these lightweight laptops are unlikely to lift the market this year, according to J.P Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz.

Trying to capture the success of Apple's MacBook Air, PC makers announced a slew of new and upcoming ultrabooks at last month's CES. Intel has spearheaded the drive, even going so far as to create a $300 million ultrabook fund to help vendors transition to these light and thin "must-have" devices.

But the results aren't likely to pay off, says Moskowitz, at least not yet.

For instance, the base price levels ($899-1,299) of ultrabooks are still too high. Given that Apple sells its entry-level MacBook Air for $999, Moskowitz believes that Windows-based ultrabooks would need to drop below $999 before the corporate crowd starts to embrace them. For the average consumer, they'd need to target the $600 to $800 range, much the way netbooks sell at such low prices.

Another stumbling block: a lack of distinguishing features to make them stand out from much cheaper netbooks. Feature-packed smartphones and tablets are also capturing a healthy chunk of the dollars spent on personal devices.

Yet another problem is that PC replacement cycles are stretching as consumers increasingly buy new ones only when their existing computers break down.

"Ultrabooks are not likely to provide incremental lift in total PC growth in 2012," Moskowitz said in his report released today. "The MacBook Air form factor has been a success for Apple, but we are skeptical that similar success can be replicated by Windows-based Ultrabooks in the near to mid term."

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Looking beyond 2012, Intel's Ivy Bridge chips could push ultrabook vendors to the $600 to $800 price range and provide a boost to battery life.

More advanced features, such as voice control and touchscreens, could also convince buyers to opt for an ultrabook instead of a tablet or even a smartphone.

The debut of Windows 8 should also provide some new and improved features to ultrabooks.

"Discounted pricing levels appear to be deferred to the next generation of rollouts expected later this year and in 2013," Moskowitz said. "Next generations should be able to take advantage of lower cost CPUs (Ivy Bridge), but even then, we think that advanced features must be incorporated in Ultrabooks to differentiate from standard notebook PCs, while also attempting to pull from the increasing shift of customers' wallets to smartphones and tablets."

As a result, the industry could see a healthy kick from ultrabooks, the analyst noted--just not until 2013 at best.